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When Your Enemy Is Trying To Commit Suicide…

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Seveal years ago–it might have been all the way back in the Clinton administration, I don’t remember–Reason magazine ran an article about the health insurance mess that amounted to one long exasperated scream.

Faced with an increasingly hostile political climate and a populace increasingly convinced that they were nothing but lying, deceitful dirtbags–the insurance companies kept insisting on behaving like lying, deceitful dirtbags.

As the writer pointed out, the only group in America capable of changing us from a country of private insurance to a country with government insurance was the private insurance companies themselves, and they often seemed like they were working overtime on just that project.

In a way, that’s what Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story came down to. 

Oh, it’s just as tendentious as any Moore film, and it ends with the “Internationale” being played over the credits (there are a lot of credits–Woody Guthrie got the second half).  It was an odd version of the “Internatioale,” too, in a style reminiscent of 1950s nightclub music, as if Bobby Darrin had recorded it right after “Mack the Knife.”

But there was less of what could be labeled outright lying in it, and I  know why that was.

Faced with an increasingly hostile political climate and a populace increasingly convinced that they are nothing but lying, deceitful dirtbags, the financial services sector has insisted on behaving like lying, deceitful dirtbags.

I do know that there are people out there who go bankrupt or lose their homes because they gamble or because they borrowed too much money irresponsibly, but there are enough hardworking, decent people who have been screwed by the practices that became prevalent after financial deregulation that Moore didn’t have to make stuff up.

And, I’ll admit, most of the stories he used were ones I’d already heard of–like the county in the Midwest that turned their juvenile detention facilities over to a for-profit company, who promptly made financial arrangements with two judges, who then funneled as many teen-agers into jail as possible, sometimes on charges that did not carry a a jail term in the law.

The judges got prosecuted, the kids wrongly imprisoned got let out–but many of them had been locked up for a year or more, and they had, you know, issues.

And the mechinations of the mortgage brokers I knew about, too–the outright lying to clients about the way adjustable rate mortgages worked and what the real rate was going to be after the introductory peiriod was over, the pressure to take larger loans over smaller ones (the brokers get a commission) regardless of ability to repay (the brokers don’t have to care, because the mortgages were going to be sold anyway).

I went to this movie at least partially because I didn’t care if it was tendentious–I’ve had enough of the way these people behave.  And I think it’s related, really, to the way the insurance companies behave.

When I was growing up, the insurance industry was still based largely in Hartford, Connecticut, and the execs all lived out in a suburb called West Hartford.  The insurance execs made lots of money, but there were very few mansions in town.  The companies insisted.  If they caught you building some kind of monstrosity, they’d either fire you, or slow your career to a crawl.  They didn’t think it was good public relations to have the public think that they were getting rich off other people’s misery.

I always thought that was a little stodgy, but at the very least it was evidence of an industry that had some clue about the way most people think and feel.  These guys–in insurance and in finance both–are completely oblivious.

That said, the movie doesn’t do insurance companies, since Moore beat up on those in Sicko. but it does Wall Street and AIG and the big mortgage lenders.

He beats up on the Bush administration, naturally, but he’s not very nice to Democrats, either, especially to Connecticut’s own Chris Dodd.

With Obama, it’s mostly a wait-and-see kind of thing, coupled with a “we voted for you to change this, and you get that, right?”

It was a good movie, and I liked it.  I’ll admit to being rather amused by the end bit, where Moore wraps yellow crime scene tape around the AIG building in Manhattan. 

And hating the bail-out is something ranke and file  Democrats hate as much as rank and file Republicans, so maybe there’s a point of contact here that there often isn’t with Moore films.

In the meantime, I’m going back to my conservatives–and I apollogize for mispelling Donohue’s name, which has two o’s, and no a. 

And I agree that there’s nothing intinsically wrong with an anti-defamation league for Catholics.  Donohue himself, however, is a little…well.

Unsophisticated might be the nicest word for it.

Written by janeh

October 18th, 2009 at 8:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'When Your Enemy Is Trying To Commit Suicide…'

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  1. Yeah, yeah. About 50 years ago a political writer said that we needed government for capitalism to work well–to prevent fraud and enforce contracts. Her name was Ayn Rand. About 200 years before there was another who said even worse things about business practices and businessmen. His name was Adam Smith. And yet we have a line dating back at least as far as Upton Sinclair who announce “Look! Corrupt businessmen! Our wise, benevolent and honest civil servants can replace them!” Have our muckrakers never dealt with the Postal Service or the IRS, or are they simply unable to make the connection?

    The persistent problem is the man of wealth using that wealth to manipulate the government, and the list of possibilities is long: selective enforcement of laws on fraud and contract; tariffs and excises which create monoploies, or monopolies granted outright; subsidies provided by taxpayers; arcane provisions in the tax codes; and my personal favorite–long. detailed laws so that everyone is in violation of something, so you need “friends”–in OSHA, in the EPA and if necessary in the Capitol and the White House.

    To really fix the problem you need very few and simple laws without a lot of discretion. Favors for friends would have to be defended in public first, and there would be no room for “making a few phone calls” to get contributors, drinking buddies or college classmates off the hook later. For example one could have a carbon tax or even a straight “cap and trade” instead of subsidies for people in the “right” green businesses and a thousand pages of “cap and trade” so it will miss those with “friends” in Congress. You’ll notice which system we’re getting, though.

    And, pretty well, the line from Sinclair to Moore is on the “special rules for special people” side. None of them are out there saying that insurance companies should be permitted to trade across state lines, or cutting out all the hundreds of things a health insurance plan HAS to cover in most states–because the providers of that treatment have “pull” in the state capitols. In fact, the “reforms” look very like that–a petrie dish for corruption. None of the reformers want to make OSHA and EPA rules simpler and less prone to favoritism, nor to do away with their own diversions of tax money like the NEA.

    REAL reform would look quite different. This is just “special rules for special people” with diferent people and rules.

    There’s a lot of that going around.


    18 Oct 09 at 10:43 am

  2. I’ve not seen “Capitalism,a love story,” yet and will probably wait for the DVD. And, since I’ve not owned property since 1995, the mortgage/banking mess hasn’t touched me either. Interest rates and greedy banking practices,however, effect all of us. Twice in the past 30-35 years, I’ve been without health insurance. The first time was for about 3 years and fortunately no catastrophic illness or accidents happened to me. And the second time was only for about two months and my doctors were kind enough to write my regular prescriptions even though I couldn’t make office visits. My younger daughter, who is 26, has no insurance. She has a b.s. degree from University of Florida, has a decent job but not one that provides insurance. A private policy would consume more of her salary than she could afford. Same sort of situation with my older daughter, although her two children are covered. I do hope with every bit of hope a recovering pessimist can have that President Obama and Congress can work out a solution that allows affordable access to health care.


    18 Oct 09 at 12:29 pm

  3. We’ve been talking about the huge mess the government is about to make out of health insurance reform. It’s not that it’s a bad idea…it’s that *this* particular bill is a horrendous idea. It’s too long for anyone to really read, so you gotta wonder, who is writing this crap? Not the legislators themselves. Have they farmed it out to assistants? Outsourced it to India… or worse, just let the insurance companies themselves provide the prose.

    My husband & I figured out that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights together are less than 5,000 words. We set up a whole government with that. My preference would be that no legislation, particularly federal legislation, should be more than 5000 words long. Oh, and written in plain English, not legalese. That would provide a whole lot less room for pork, loopholes, and obfuscation, it would segment bills into understandable chunks of funding, expenditures, and oversight, and it would make it possible for ordinary citizens to read and understand the laws. Even if they’re not released to the public until the night before the vote. :/

    1000 pages of anything is just wrong. We’re all going to be paying for this for decades, and I sincerely doubt it’s going to make anything cheaper.


    18 Oct 09 at 2:03 pm

  4. Both Robert and Lymaree are calling for short and simple laws. I sympathize but …

    There is a state agency here which is supposed to check that children’s toys are “safe”.

    Every Christmas we get stories about the agency forcing recalls of toys. An example, a teddy bear with eyes made of plastic buttons. The agency said a small toddler could pull off the button, put it in his/her mouth and choke.

    Its looks as if it will take 20 years of individual decisions to define “safe”.

    Perhaps simple laws lead to complex law suits?


    18 Oct 09 at 4:09 pm

  5. Simple laws written by simpletons who don’t even define their terms are indeed a problem. 5000 words will most likely cover the important aspects of just about anything, including definition of terms.

    Of course I also recognize that the courts always test and define the meaning of laws. That’s what they’re for.

    Ideally, I want every law to cover the important stuff, but not leave room for “special exceptions (meaning benefits for campaign contributors)”, pork, etc. Every word should be meaningful. Maybe if we gave bonuses to legislators for every word below 5000 when the bills are written we’d get some damn terse laws. ;)


    18 Oct 09 at 6:50 pm

  6. The devil’s in the details. You need room for some special exceptions, to allow for situations the lawmaker’s didn’t foresee or technological changes. It’s when you try to avoid all special exceptions that you end up with extremely long and complex laws. And, of course, one person’s ‘special exceptions’ is another’s ‘reasonable allowance for exceptions’.

    Without relatively simple laws allowing exceptions and personal judgement in enforcement, you end up with a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ law that puts someone in prison for life for a comparatively minor offence, a ‘no tolerance’ law that means teenaged girls carrying Midol and little boys carrying sporks are severely punished and compulsory physical education for every child each year that doesn’t make allowances for children with severe physical disabilities.


    19 Oct 09 at 6:15 am

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